Volume 8, Issue 77  |  September 26, 2023SubscribeAdvertise

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Council rejects high-priced lecture hall construction bids, plans to re-bid in future


After every construction bid for the Central Library lecture hall building project came in well over the estimated cost, City Council this week unanimously rejected all proposals, while several councilmembers expressed interest in re-bidding the project in the future. 

On Tuesday (April 25), councilmembers voted 7-0 in favor of the recommended action on the item (which was pulled from the consent calendar for discussion) to reject all the bids and direct staff to continue looking for opportunities to move this project forward in the future.

The city received five bids for the project on February 28, but all were significantly higher than the latest engineer’s estimate, which was approximately $14 million as of November 2022. All bids were between $17 million and $20 million.

Councilmember Robyn Grant said they are “actively considering” rebidding the project.

They will continue to pursue the project, added Councilmember Erik Weigand.

“We’re not giving up on it. I, certainly, am not giving up on it. It’s just a challenging time in this environment for builders. And I think we’ve got an opportunity to see what the future holds here,” Weigand said. “I think we want to at least voice up here that there is a commitment to moving forward with something and (we’re) not just turning our back on the project.”

An auditorium adds value to the civic center complex, said Mayor Noah Blom. He’s in favor of the project, but not the bids that the city received, he added. 

“By rejecting these bids and going out again we get an opportunity to kind of look towards the future,” Blom said. “It’s just due diligence on our part that this isn’t just the willy-nilly spending of funds.” 

They want to see the project get built, he added, but it needs to be done in a fiscally responsible way.

The civic center campus isn’t really “complete” until this project happens, added Councilmember Brad Avery. There are other important projects, like fire or police stations, but this is also essential for the community. 

“A great city can do both and I firmly believe we’ll get there,” Avery said. “I have every confidence that it will happen.” 

This week’s action is more about the timing, he noted, as construction costs are currently high.

“Along with dealing with all the things that the city has to maintain, take care of, and the challenges ahead, and being prudent – there’s still a huge will to do this,” Avery said. 

He also encouraged residents to donate to the private side of the project. If the community believes in the arts and in the power of ideas and great programming, people should contribute toward making the lecture hall happen, which will in turn further inspire the city to do the same. He also highlighted the rewarding experience of hearing live lectures. 

Council rejects high priced lecture hall concept rendering

Click on photo for a larger image

Rendering courtesy of RCA/City of Newport Beach

The conceptual design for the planned library lecture hall

Of the $13 million budgeted for the project, $6.5 million is to come from private contributions, and the other $6.5 million from city funds, including approximately $5 million from American Rescue Plan Act funding.

The timing of the bid in the current economic climate contributed to the high-priced results, the staff report notes. Over the past year there has been a significant increase in cost of materials, labor and fuel.

According to the report on the agenda item, they discussed the project with a few of the bidding contractors and the design consultant. Discussions focused on how to reduce the construction cost while maintaining consistency with the approved conceptual design and project goals. 

“Although this approach is a possibility, staff does not feel these changes would adequately reduce pricing to within an acceptable budget and any further design changes would not maintain desired project goals,” the staff report reads.

The item also redirected American Rescue Plan Act funds earmarked for the library lecture hall to the city yard fueling support facilities and transfer station rehabilitation project. It will be replaced with city Facilities Financial Plan funds due to time of use requirements on the ARPA funding.

To date, approximately $1.37 million has been encumbered against the budget and, of that, $672,558 has been spent. In the report, staff noted that “there is negligible fiscal impact to rejecting all bids.” Currently, there is sufficient encumbered design funding within the design team’s contract to cover the necessary work for “shelving” and later rebidding the project as desired, the report explains.

There is a deadline to encumber the ARPA funds and to actually expend the funds, Grant explained. The deadline to encumber those funds under a contract is Dec. 31, 2024, she noted, and the funds need to be expended by Dec. 31, 2026.

“In conversations with staff, I came to understand that the comfort level of actually putting those funds towards another project that may have a faster timeline might be a good use of those funds,” Grant said. “I didn’t see the urgency in actually reallocating these funds necessarily yet, given that we have a year and a half to encumber them and we don’t have an actual contract for what the new use of these funds is going to be for, which are modifications to our city yard.”

“But I’m not against doing that,” she continued. “I think it’s forward thinking and I appreciate that the staff is always trying to protect the city and make sure that we have adequate use of the funds.”

She emphasized that they are planning to reallocate funds from the FFP so that the lecture hall/civic auditorium project will be at the same planning stage it was before the action this week. 

It’s important for the public to know what they’re doing with the redirection of the funds, Weigand agreed. They aren’t letting those funds “go to waste,” he said. 

During public comment on the item, resident Dorothy Larson, past chairman of the Library Foundation, thanked the council and staff for their hard work on trying to get the project done. 

“This library lecture hall, civic auditorium, whatever it ends up being called, it (will be) a very important landmark building for this city. It’s going to be very useful for many, many users, including the Foundation, of course.”

She noted the renowned speakers the organization brings to town in their highly acclaimed lecture series. 

Larson appreciated the councilmember comments regarding a commitment to continue moving forward with the project. 

The Central Library building was built in 1994 and expanded in 2013, incorporating a second entrance which connects the library to the Civic Center and park. 

At the March 12, 2019, study session, the council at the time expressed support for the lecture hall project and the architect team selection process. At the meeting, the library supporters agreed to partner with the city on this project. Council directed staff to return with a recommendation for awarding the design contract for developing concept and final design plans.

On July 9, 2019, council adopted a resolution establishing the Library Lecture Hall Design Committee. Over the last few years, the committee was tasked with developing the facility concept. They narrowed down and selected an architect, pored over design ideas, considered seating, indoor/outdoor activity, sight lines and orientation of the entrance. The group worked on parking issues and the building’s connection to the library, compared various sizes, configurations, and blueprints and discussed how to incorporate the bamboo courtyard. They also reflected on current and future programming.

With the support of the LLHDC, Robert R. Coffee Architects + Associates was unanimously selected. On Nov. 19, 2019, council voted 5-2, with councilmembers Kevin Muldoon and Marshall “Duffy” Duffield dissenting, to approve land use agreements with the Irvine Company and a professional services agreement with RCA. The design contract included developing conceptual designs, attending community and LLHDC meetings, and presenting concepts to council.

On April 30, 2021, staff and the project architect presented the project concept to the Irvine Company. Following some changes and LLHDC approval, the revised concept plan was approved by TIC on August 18 of that year. 

During a study session on Sept. 28, 2021, staff presented the final revised conceptual design, project cost estimate and tentative funding terms for the MOU with the Library Foundation. At that meeting, councilmembers provided direction on the project and, following a straw vote, asked that the lecture hall return to council for formal approval.

On Nov. 31, 2021, City Council approved the conceptual design for the planned library lecture hall. Councilmembers voted 6-1, with Muldoon dissenting, in support of the design, including the floor plan and the exterior architectural style. The November 2021 action also approved the overall cost estimate of $12.81 million and a memorandum of understanding with the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation, which commits the city to a 50/50 funding match or $6.5 million, whichever is less.

The building plans were completed by RCA and approved by city staff in the fall of 2022. The approved final design and development includes a new 9,500-square-foot lecture hall near the Central Library and seating for up to 299 people. 


Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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